Jindal Aims to Carve a Niche for Himself in ’16 GOP Field

Bobby Jindal isn’t playing coy when it comes to his 2016 presidential ambitions. He admits to actively thinking and “praying” about joining the fray, and says he will make a decision after the midterm elections.

The Louisiana governor is part of the cadre of politicos traveling to early voting states this year; under the guise of campaigning for fellow party members, they are boning up on various policy issues and making their pitch to reporters.  Among the potential GOP field, already filled with big names, Jindal hardly registers in early polls, if he is mentioned at all. But he will reach the end of his second and — by state law — final term as governor in 2016, and will be looking for a new job. He touts that executive experience in his pitch, but knows he will have to do more than that to stand out from in a group likely to include a lot of governors (or former ones). And so he’s carving out his niche as the policy guy.

In Washington on Tuesday to talk about his set of energy principles, Jindal met with reporters and delivered a speech at the Heritage Foundation. The policy document (the second one he has introduced) is 48 pages long, with hundreds of footnotes. It calls for less government regulation of domestic energy products and exports; a focus on renewable sources of energy; the building of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline; and addressing the issue of climate change.

As the governor of Louisiana, energy issues exert a strong pull on Jindal. He has an impressive résumé, too: He is a Rhodes scholar with a biology degree from Brown University. He oversaw the state’s health care system while in his early twenties, and presided over the state’s higher education system in his late twenties. He later worked for the George W. Bush White House and served two terms in the House of Representatives before running for governor in 2007. The son of Indian immigrants, Jindal also fits well into his party’s goal of demographic diversity. And at 43, he qualifies as part of a younger generation of leaders.

Jindal insists he isn’t concerned about his name not registering well in the polls at this stage. It’s early, and he has been at the bottom of the hypothetical ballot before when running for governor. His decision to run for president will have nothing to do with the polls, he told a group of reporters at a roundtable sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. It will be because he feels like he has “something unique to offer.”

While Jindal’s concentration on policy is notable, he is walking a delicate line with his party’s base when it comes to energy and climate science. Asked by a reporter whether he believes human activity is contributing to climate change, Jindal said he is sure it does. But he said he wants to let scientists decide the level of contribution and what it means — not politicians. Jindal called the Obama administration “climate deniers,” citing the White House’s delay on authorizing the Keystone pipeline even after several reviews have address environmental concerns.

When asked whether he believes in the theory of evolution, Jindal was more skittish. “Local school districts should make decisions about what is taught in their classrooms,” he said. But as a parent, he wants his kids exposed to “the best science and the best critical thinking.” When pressed for his own views, he said, “I want my kids to be taught about evolution in their schools.”

The Louisiana governor has been a leading opponent of the Common Core national curriculum standards, which have become a lightning rod for Republicans considering a run for president, and he is suing the government over them.

Jindal served as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association last year, a position that gave him unique access to the campaign trail and put him in touch with top party donors. He is vice chairman this year and is out stumping for candidates. The National Review reported earlier this year that Jindal was looking to Mitt Romney for introductions to top campaign financiers.

Notably, though, Jindal has not weighed in on the U.S. Senate race in his home state — one that could help determine control of the chamber. He has actively dismissed Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu, but hasn’t endorsed a Republican in the race (which features a “jungle primary” for all candidates on Nov. 4, with a possible runoff between the top two in December). Following the conclusion of that race and all the others, Jindal will make a decision about whether to enter one himself.